The cult of Boris

When is a car crash interview not a car crash interview? Well that, it would seem, depends on who you are. Boris Johnson’s calamitous interview on the Queen’s Speech with Eddie (‘the bear trap’) Mair last week had all the hall marks of a major horror show, but he appeared to get off lightly in comparison to others.

Let’s take for example Diane Abbott who was (rightly) dragged over the coals for her failure to have properly read a terror report or Jeremy Corbyn muffing questions about costings on manifesto childcare pledges Ms Abbott referred to a media ‘vortex’ of attacks on her, Mr Corbyn and Labour during the election and voiced her opinion that she had clearly been part of the ‘grid’ of Tory strategist Lynton Crosby’s attack campaign.

However, when it comes to the bungling and bumbling Foreign Secretary, the same rules don’t appear to apply and the oft touted refrain to his (periodic) gaffes is often to simply shake the head and say ‘Boris is just Boris.’ This is a man who has ruffled feathers left right and centre – there’s even a map out there that charts all the countries he has managed to offend over the years! Not even the British Empire covered as much ground.

Boris Johnson holds quite a unique position in politics in this respect. There are few other political figures who could survive a raft of diplomatic blunders that have included; penning a poem about the Turkish president having sexual relations with a goat, comparing Hillary Clinton to a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital and conducting a one man saber rattle against the Russians in Syria earlier this the year which fell flat.

He has his detractors, not least Eddie Mair, who referred to him as ‘nasty piece of work’ in a previous interview in 2013. And yet it is this sort of boorish bluster that has led to something of a Boris cult developing over the years. This has been chalked up by many pundits to the fact that he displays an authenticity that is lacking in other politicians who come heavily wrapped up in spin. What you see is what you get, and thus he is seen as a ‘refreshing’ change.

When voices were first crying out for Boris as PM five years ago he was described in an Independent editorial as ‘A politician for people who don’t like or understand politics or policies.’ There are few other politicians on the UK scene who are less identifiably ‘posh’ than Boris, and while he may be a boon in the more dyed in the wool working class Labour constituencies, he has surprisingly broad appeal as his rather successful mayorship of London proved.

Many believe that Boris’s involvement in the Leave campaign last summer contributed to that famous victory even if, post-event, it seemed more like a bare faced power play for the top job. He may well have succeeded too if it hadn’t been for that pesky Michael Gove… and as Theresa May continues to wobble, Boris’s name keeps frothing back to the surface as a potential leader.

The problem with Boris is he just can’t help himself. He will just barrel his way along and you had better not get in the way, as bruising encounters on rugby and football fields testify. And for this reason, he will bounce his way through car crash interviews, dodgy diplomatic announcements, awkward meetings on the global stage and downright dangerous sporting appearances. And yes we will continue to shake our heads, but apologists and fans will just shrug and say ‘That’s Boris.’

However, when push comes to shove will he be trusted with the keys to Number 10? The answer now is increasingly probably not – gaffes aside, there are periodic rumbles about his laziness and sloppiness. Nevertheless, as long as he is around, whoever is in the Downing Street hot seat needs to keep an eye on this highly influential class clown

Luan de Burgh

June 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.